This is a really helpful book. It helps you to think about how speak to your children about matters of faith, your own faith and conversion, God's plan of salvation, and how to help children pray to God to accept him as their Saviour and Lord.
It is short (122 pg) and only has 6 chapters, all of which are very readable. It is full of stories and anecdotes, as well as a biblical foundation and helpful suggestions and information.
Staal is the director of the Children's Programs at Willow Creek. He starts off by making clear that children can enter into a saving relationship with Jesus (something many would personally testify to) and that as as parents we need to commit to becoming comfortable at speaking simple, personal faith explanations. The rest of the book goes on to give help on how to do this.
Some of the things I found helpful:
- It was eminently practical. In Ch 2: Share Your Story, he makes the point that our personal stories of conversion are likely to resonate with our children more than any other. Therefore, we need to be prepared to share them at any time. He then leads you through thinking about your own conversion: what you were like beforehand, what happened to you when you were converted and how your life has changed since then. He helps you to think about how to make it age-appropriate to children, and finally to trim your story down to four sentences. I now feel I could explain my conversion at age 17 to my 5-year old in a way he would understand.
- As the previous point suggested, throughout the book, he has exercises to do to practice yourself. I normally never do theses types of exercises in Christian books, they often seem a bit contrived to me. However, I did most of them in this book. And I found a number of them very helpful: such as thinking about what each of your children currently understands about God and Jesus, or how I would explain in a few sentences the key points of the gospel.
- It encourages the need for a response from a child to the gospel, in prayer. He gives us (parents) the tools to help our children through this in a simple yet effective way, which he terms the ABC prayer: A (admit sins and ask for forgiveness), B (believe in Jesus and that he died for your sins) and C (choose to follow Jesus the rest of your life). This section also had some helpful guidelines for judging whether your children are really ready to pray such a prayer.
- The reminder that children believe what they are told, especially by their parents, so these early years (0-5) give a great opportunity to lay a spiritual foundation. He had a number of tips on how to make the things of God a part of everyday life.
- His final chapter acknowledged that some parents reading the book may themselves 'not have a story', that is they themselves have not made a profession of faith, and then addresses the need to look into the things of God themselves and make a decision. I thought this was a really helpful issue to address, rather than assuming that all readers have committed their lives to Christ.
- pray with them even as babies as we carried them to bed, it has set up an expected pattern into childhood that we always pray at the end of the day
- say grace with them as soon as they are starting solids, our 15 month old puts her hands together now as soon as she gets in her highchair
- pray for ambulances, fire engines and police cars when they have their sirens on. It always seemed a bit macabre to me to get kids excited about sirens when they actually signify a crisis. We always now pray as we drive when we hear an ambulance.
- we have made up little photo books called "God loves me" and "God made me", for our children, godchildren and nieces/nephews. The "God loves me" has photos of all family members on consecutive pages, with the writing on the opposite page, "God loves me", "God loves Mummy & Daddy", "God loves Nanna & Grandad", etc. As we live interstate from all family, it has been a wonderful way of teaching the family names to them, but more so, teaching them that God loves everyone. The book ends with "God loves everyone" and John 3:16 printed out. The "God made me" one, has the immediate family and then "God made trees/dogs/birds/flowers, etc", the things that children see regularly. At the end that one has "God made everything" and "God has made me His"
One question this book raised for me is that he talks more about Jesus, whereas I tend to talk more about God. eg. I say to my children more that "God loves you" rather than "Jesus loves you" - is this a cultural thing do you think or is more going on here? Have you ever thought about this?
Anyway, this is a helpful, easy to read and very practical book - and about a topic very close to many of our hearts.